Physics graduate student Carly Fengel shows a Timber Ridge Elementary School student the beautiful spectral lines of hydrogen, helium, argon and neon lamps. When viewed through diffraction grating glasses, the various wavelengths of light are split apart, revealing a unique signature for each gas. “So we could tell what stars are made of!” remarked the student.

Family Science Nights have been a yearly staple in Corvallis schools for more than a decade, but May 16 was only the second one for Timber Ridge School, a combined middle and elementary school serving a rural area on the northern edge of Albany. About 200 students of all ages attended the event, with middle-school students acting as guides and selling snacks as a fundraiser.

In addition to volunteers from the physics department, OSU was represented by other departments, including the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Non-departmental groups also showed up, such as the Dairy Club, Geology Club, and Fisheries and Wildlife Club. For the first time, nursing students from Linn-Benton Community College made an appearance, rounding out the science offerings with tables focusing on exercise, vital signs, CPR, and hand-washing.

Other physics demos included classics like levitating ping-pong balls with a hair dryer and the ever-popular hovercraft. As usual, the line for the hovercraft rarely dropped below a dozen students, continuing to draw a crowd to the end of the hall throughout the evening. Many were eager to learn how the hovercraft worked and several times kids remarked: “I want to make one!”

(Prof. Ethan Minot explains the design of the hovercraft)

As the last Family Science Night of the school year, this event ended the semester on a high note, with several new groups and a new physics demonstration. Both volunteers and families will be looking forward to next year’s school outreach events.

A big thank you to the physics student volunteers Evan Peters, Garrett Jepson, and Carly Fengel.

Story by Monica Bennett.

Physics joined the Mi Familia Weekend for a hands-on showcase of science. The Mi Familia Weekend is an annual 2-day event that is designed to connect diverse and underrepresented families with their college students and the OSU community. The interactive science and engineering sessions incorporated demonstrations and activities from Physics, Chemistry, Microbiology, Engineering, and more. Dr. KC Walsh and Learning Assistants from the introductory physics course brought a host of fun physics toys to engage the young K-12 participants. Demonstrations from the physics group included a magnetic levitation track, hovercraft, Tesla coil, liquid nitrogen freezing, and much more.

Story by Monica Bennett

Physics was one of nearly a dozen departments and groups that came together to create the attention-grabbing, educational smorgasbord of OSU Discovery Days.

The event is coordinated by Prof. Margaret Haak of the Department of Chemistry, who took over in 2003 and expanded the program from its predecessor, “Museum Days”. Prof. Haak estimates that about 1,800 children flooded into LaSells over the course of two days, enjoying science demonstrations and trivia games from science departments and other groups, including the sorority Sigma Delta Omega, the Physics 111 course, and local business Brad’s World Reptiles.

The Department of Physics claimed the majority of one of the rooms in the LaSells center, mostly for the sake of the rotating chair that sat in the center of the room. Here students lined up to take a spin, using hand weights to test how concentrating their center of mass increased their speed of rotation, while extending their hands slowed it.

Having discovered some principles of angular momentum, the dizzy students then staggered over to the tables, which contained more physics demonstrations. The demos, all hands-on to some extent, included ping-pong balls supported by a hair dryer, as well as a large tank of water in which students tested their predictions on the relative buoyancy of regular vs. diet soda and cucumbers vs. grapes. A particular favorite was the table of vacuum experiments, featuring not only a chamber that demonstrated the effect of vacuum on balloons and bubble wrap, but also a steel ball that students tried to pull open, discovering the pressure difference when the air inside was evacuated by the vacuum pump.

Physics demos were on display from other groups as well—a contingent from Physics 111 (taught by Prof. Emily van Zee) showed off their skills as future teachers with an array of optics demonstrations, showing students how refraction changes the apparent location of an object submerged in water and how reflectivity varies in different materials. Elsewhere, students watched a Geiger counter detecting uranium in old Fiestaware and observed changes in surface tension with soap and water, being introduced to a variety of physics concepts in addition to the department’s own offerings.

Prof. Haak’s hope for Discovery Days is for students to feel involved, seeing that “science is something you do, not just something you read about.” She believes that major outreach events are valuable to the volunteers as well as the visitors, stressing the importance of communicating science well and encouraging hands-on exploration. With these guiding values and contributions from the fields of physics, biochemistry, botany, herpetology, and more, the spring 2017 Discovery Days were a delight for students and scientists alike.

A big thank you to the physics students who volunteered their time: Ikaika McKeague-McFadden, Willis Rogers, Kelby Petersonm, Zach Colbert, Abe Teklu, Isaac Hodges, Tymothy Mangan, Ian Goode, Ryan Bailey Crandell, Katy Chase, James Haggerty, Carly Fengel, David Rivella, and Nikita Rozanov.

Bethany Matthews has been awarded the Ben and Elaine Whiteley Endowment for Materials Research Fellowship.  This endowment, established in 2007, provides support for materials research in the College of Science.

Ms. Matthews is a fourth-year PhD student working with Prof. Janet Tate. Her research involves the design, synthesis, and characterization of thin film semiconductors for the improvement of renewable energy applications such as solar cells, thermoelectrics (materials which can convert heat to usable energy), or piezoelectrics (materials which can convert a mechanical stress or push to a usable energy). These semiconductors are stabilized in higher energy states than they would normally be found in through alloying and appropriate temperature control to improve their properties and make them more suitable for devices. She is particularly interested in studying the microstructure (e.g. size, composition, structure, and orientation of crystals on a very small scale) of these materials by electron microscopy and learning how changes to that microstructure explain changes to properties on a much larger scale. This fellowship will allow her to study these materials and similar systems in greater detail at the microscopy facility at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado and to explain anomalous property behaviors which, if they can be controlled, could greatly increase device efficiency.

Bethany Matthews, a 4th-year graduate student in Prof. Janet Tate’s lab, has won a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Student Research Award.  The award is for the proposed research project, “Microscopy Analysis of Metastable Heterostructural Alloys with Anomalous Piezoelectric Response”, to be conducted at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO during the summer and fall of 2017.

The award citation states that, “The SCGSR award is in recognition of outstanding academic accomplishments and the merit of the SCGSR research proposal, and reflects Bethany Matthews’s potential to advance the Ph.D. studies and make important contributions to the mission of the DOE Office of Science.” Congratulations, Bethany!

Bethany will work with Dr. Andrew Norman of NREL and also with Prof. Brian Gorman and Dr. Andriy Zakutayev, her collaborators in the DOE-funded Energy Frontier Research Center, the Center for Next-Generation Materials by Design. The EFRC members study metastable materials of many types, and Bethany’s role has been understanding metastable alloys.  Her developing interest in transmission electron microscopy, using OSU’s Electron Microscopy Facility under the guidance of Dr. Pete Eschbach, led her to submit a proposal to DOE to study metastable alloys with microscopists at NREL and Colorado School of Mines.

Physics Major Mirek Brandt was just named a National Goldwater Scholar!
Press release:

OSU’s last Goldwater Scholar winner was in 2013; most years there are only a couple successful nominations statewide (3 this year).   OSU also had a second successful nominee this year, True Gibson, a Life Sciences major. Congrats!

The Goldwater Scholarship was established by US Congress in 1986. Each year all universities nominate up to four undergraduates in science or engineering for one of ~240 Goldwater Scholarships.  As all nominees are academically near the top of their school, the primary consideration at the National level becomes “the extent to which that individual has the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to his or her field. This is judged by letter of references, essays written by the student, and prior research experience.”

Mirek will graduate in June 2018 as a Physics and Math major and plans to pursue graduate studies. Since his freshman year (Fall 2014), Mirek Brandt has been a member of Prof. Matt Graham’s  Micro-Femto Energetics Lab.  His research contributions are very substantial and we thank  URSA-ENGAGE and SURE Science Summer Scholarship programs for funding his research.  He will defend his undergraduate senior project thesis later this year entitled “The Impact of Crystal Morphology on Opto-Electronic Properties of Amorphous and Organic Crystalline Materials”.

To top off this National honor, Mirek was recently recognized internationally by being selected to attend the Kupcinet-Getz International Science School. This program matches top-undergraduates with leading research mentors at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.  Mirek will join a Theoretical Astrophysics group at Weizmann this summer before returning to Oregon State Physics to take-up his Goldwater Scholarship.

On behalf of the OSU Physics Department, congratulations Mirek!

The Oregon State University Society of Physics Students (SPS) made a strong showing at the Sigma Pi Sigma Quadrennial Congress, which was held on November 2-6, 2016 in San Francisco. In cooperation with LBCC students and faculty, SPS secured funding to send 1 graduate student and 7 undergraduates from OSU and 3 LBCC students to the Congress. The students presented posters, toured scientific facilities, networked with professionals, and listened to talks by the leaders in Physics.

Michael Forkner and Tym Mangan (pictured with their posters) were among the undergraduates who presented the innovative research being done at Oregon State University. During the poster sessions, students discussed their work with other physics students from across the country and received feedback from professional physicists on their presentations. They also toured the Stanford Linear Accelerator or the Google X facilities, and listened to talks by professional scientists while looking at the sort of labs they might work in one day.

There were exciting plenary talks, including one by Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell who discovered quasars. She thinks that the climate in physics for women has improved considerably since her days as a young scientist. Eric Cornell, Nobel Laureate (and former Yunker lecturer) gave a characteristically upbeat and interesting talk about what the life of a real scientist is like. Between plenary talks, PhysCon conducted workshops that allowed SPS members from across the nation (and beyond!) to network and discuss important topics faced by chapters and individuals during their physics journeys. Grad student Kelby Hahn was a panelist who discussed life as a graduate student. The students were delighted to made connections that will last well beyond their short stay at PhysCon.

OSU/LBCC Participants:
Kelby Hahn, Michael Forkner, Evan Peters, Tym Mangan, Elliot Capek, Hazel Betz, Gabe Nowak, Nikita Rosanov; Osvaldo Galvez, Delphine LeBrunColon, Eric Slyter.

Michael Forkner presents his research at PhysCon
Tym Magnan at PhysCon 2016
Delphine LeBrunColon and Elliot Capek at PhysCon
Students at PhysCon